Getting through life: Green Things, Maureen O'Hara legs, and Medication (or, I already wrote this piece a year ago, and wanted to reuse it)
When I discovered that I needed to do more work on myself than my crappy Ford Fusion needs oil changes, I made the decision early on to do it without medication.
(Well, sort of. My practitioner prescribed me an antidepressant, which I took for exactly five days before the side effects on the side of the bottle gave me anxiety.)
Not taking an antidepressant gave my therapist grey hair. We've earned those streaks together.
I wasn't aiming for heroics or anything, and I can not stress enough that antidepressants are exactly what you should be taking....if it's something you should be taking.
I just could not face the fear of not being in control of my own mind. Which, by the way, is exactly why you should take medication. Anxiety is the weirdest.
I'm sure all of my "problems" revolve around some baggage (that will be very expensive to unpack) about having legs with the fair Irish complexion of a young Maureen O'Hara's face, but with a thick coating of hair the color and consistency of Cat Steven's beard - and having gone to Catholic school where, obviously, the school uniform included a skirt.
Which wouldn't have been so bad, until I went back to public school in the 7th grade, and found that a school without uniforms is a Darwinian wet dream.
Being the chubby girl no one remembered, with more braces than teeth and a lampshade of hair didn't exactly put a stark increase in our phone bill.
I know people have wondered how I can be such a striking international beauty AND so clearly talented a writer. They all wail and moan that it's not fair, and to give someone else a chance. Growing up with unique features like very thick curly hair, you're always one high five from a guy away from hearing that you have a "great personality" for the rest of your life.
<cue loving text from my mom here>
I actually love the way I look, short of losing a few pounds and giving more of a crap when I go to bars with friends. This isn't actually a commentary on body acceptance, don't worry. Shockingly, my blogs don't always end the way they begin. I don't know if you've picked up on that.
In the 8th grade, I remember staring at The Popular Girl, who had the shiniest and straightest perfectly blond hair. She was petite and blond and brown-eyed and a girl.
I was Hagrid with boobs. We were different species.
She would run her tiny girly fingers through her glossy mane, flipping it to one side and then the other. It would all cascade down, waterfall-like in sheets back on to her slim shoulders and mesmerize everyone. No man (or woman, for that matter) will ever look at me with a wonder or awe at my feminine and delicate ways. Thank God.
I come from one-hundred thousand years of women who would stare transfixed at The Popular Girls of their caves and villages. My ancestor Broads had to come up with another plan of attack to trick men into thinking they would totally be worth having sex with.
And this is how humor was invented.
But I've gotten through nonetheless. I love my life now...like, really love it. But seems like "getting through" is probably the best most of us can every say about that period of time before college. Some of us thrive and stay in that place in our minds. Some of us are truly traumatized physically and mentally, and we carry those scars always. Either way, we are never where we should be, which is here and now.
When the panic attacks started for me, I think I felt more betrayed than anything. Well, anything besides the fear that consumed my every waking (and most of my sleeping) minutes. When I found that I "had" to constantly calm my nervous system to keep my mind intact during those first few months, I heard suggestions of yoga and positive affirmations, or a change in diet and reiki. I was told to give up technology and eliminate Wi-Fi waves in my house. I was told to take magnesium and K2 and B12 complex and fish oil.
I even thought of doing a meditation retreat because I ate chicken tikka masala once at Whole Foods and thought it would be pretty much the same thing.
I believed with everything in me that my problem was some external thing poisoning me for this to come on so suddenly.
I wish the true reason for my panic attacks was not so boring. The problem wasn't that I didn't sit at the cool kid's lunch table, or that I really liked listening to Jesus Christ Superstar in my room over going to Sssssecrets (is that place still open??) when I was in high school. My problem that I was living my stress as a status symbol as an adult. I loved being busy. It kept me from facing my sad and limited life. The junk drawer in my brain just became full. That's it. It was just an eighty car pile-up of thoughts, and by the time the last car made it to the crash, my brain and body decided they needed a vacation.
Panic attacks overwhelmed my nervous system, and every touch/sound/scent/sight would put me over the edge.
One of the only good things about being a little insane for a few months (other than incredible life changing friendships, and being on a super famous podcast now) is that it's the closest thing to being on mind-altering drugs as you can get without the embarrassment of getting naked at a rave.
The first time I went to beginners yoga and heard the foreign sound of "yoga music" I was transformed. Upon hearing the sitar and the weird little Indian bongos, (or whatever they are) the tears flowed in my little corner on my used yoga mat that smelled like day old feet. I'll never forget that song: Snatam Kaur's "Suni-ai". Heaven.
Many a night, I would lay on my stomach on my bed, not cards and markers spread wide in front of me. A semi-circle blank canvas of self-help awaiting to penetrate my amygdala. I made cards that said things like My Thoughts Are Filled With Positivity; My Life Is Plentiful With Prosperity; I Am Unbreakable.
These affirmations did literally nothing for me. I'm fine with that now that I know the science behind affirmations (different blog). They're not magical. It was the act of trying to make my handwriting neat, then punching a hole in the cards, then stacking them up, the putting a binder ring in them to hold them together - all of that was enough to distract me from my symptoms.
It's called mindfulness...by the way. And it was the first tiny crack in the prison cell walls of my mind.
The other benefit of having your life hit a giant iceberg is that when you turn around, you get to see life for the first time. You smell the hot sap on the pines. You learn to love the look of the deep blue of a summer night and a cloudless Saratoga sky; so blue, it would be a perfect crayon. You feel the way the sun pinches your skin on a hot day. Or the color of a bleached blue 4th of July noon sky with its cotton ball clouds.
Growing up in the eastern part of upstate New York predisposes you to seek the beauty in greenery. We're lousy with green things. Lawns and leaves and pines and the perfect rows of corn that bud in the fields and hug the voluptuous curves of the rolling hills. The contrasting shades of green between fields and forest. The stark deep wet brown highlight of the tilled ground as like eyeliner to the emerald hills. The fuzzy unkemptness of growing hay on the county fairground that they mow down to make a parking lot for the fair in August. The sharp neat look of the tiger lily leaves in June. The lime and white streaked hostas leaves that are surely a requirement of every suburban front yard.
This was the very best part about anxiety....the tripping balls on green things.
It was all new to me that year. I wanted to look and thank everything. I was alive, and the more I looked for the beauty, the more I saw. I'm now the kind of girl who thinks leaves blowing in the wind is just the trees clapping for me. Especially after half a box of Franzia. I'm also the kind of girl who likes to flip to the middle of a new book and take a big sniff. The freshly cut paper and the slightly bitter ink is intoxicating to me.
Actually, now that I think about it, I didn't even know I knew how to read until after I started dealing with anxiety. I just thought I had dyslexia or something I was too old to fix. I didn't know I was just too nervous to let my eyes take the time to process words. We're not just taught how to process one thought at a time.
The better I felt, the more I wanted to do. I wanted to see everyone and share the great news that I *might* not actually have to be institutionalized after all. I wanted to taste things (read: try all of the pizza in DeFazio's). I wanted to look at people and go places and kayak all day on the weekends. I read everything I could on mental health and anxiety and how the brain works. I wanted to talk to people who understood...and I found several patient enough to stick with me.
This is my life now. My life these days is enjoying the heady smell of the ground defrosting when it's 70 degrees in February. It's hearing your niece tell you that you are "my favorite Aunt Air"...even if you're her only Aunt Air. It's making dinner for a friend. It's learning to ask a friend for what you need, even if that thing is as simple as needing to hear that you're loved a little more often. It's recording a podcast for one hour, but somehow having a great conversation for four, because, why not? It's having anxious days and calm ones and sad ones and ones where you can't stop laughing. It's having legs the color of angel's wings, and also a five o'clock shadow before you've put your socks on. It's having someone look at you when you're 33 and thought you didn't have one F left to give, and hearing someone say they would kill to have your hair.
Take that, The Popular Girl. Curly hair and blue eyes and being able to dead lift a U-Haul can pay off in life.